His name was Dave, and he was an orphan. I don’t know how old he was when he was sent to the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, but he may have been as young as six, and he stayed until he was sixteen.
I always knew my father had been an orphan, but he would never talk about it. Once, I showed him a photograph of the asylum in a book of historic photographs of New York City. He said, “Yup, that’s it,” and walked away. From that, I knew life there must have been bad.
His silence didn’t quiet my curiosity, though, so after he died in 1986 I decided to make up his childhood in a story, which started out as a picture book and grew into my first novel, even before I wrote Ella Enchanted.
Dave at Night is historical fiction, my only novel without a shred of fantasy. The facts about New York City in 1926 are all true. I did research and learned a lot, like that the dashboards of fancy cars sported altimeters. Airplanes were a recent invention that everybody was excited about, and drivers wanted to know how high in the air they were when their cars reached the top of a hill. I also discovered that some rich people hired small chauffeurs because they wanted to look big in comparison. Can you imagine?